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"This way of learning a language made complete sense to me. Working with the SpeakEZ German course, I was able to understand more in 2 weeks than in five years of German in school!"
      -- Asbjørn Finsnes

"The way in which this method is presented provided me with language that will suit me in a foreign country instead of a collection of unusable vocabulary words.

Those who have studied languages realize that looking-up individual words cannot convey a language in the correct manner. Becoming fluent means being able to verbalize ideas ; not learning technical rules and identifying the Past Predicate Indicative.

The audio part of this method has been my favorite portion of the learning process. Not only is the pronunciation slow and clear, but it is presented so that I remember the flow of sentences and concepts.

Thank you for the opportunity to work with this amazing program; it has been a blessing for me."

-- Destiny Yarbro, College Student

Make It Stick! Efficient Vocabulary Learning

by Nathalie V. Fairbanks

I was amused to find the following a few days ago on a language learning website (200 Words A Day):

"The word in German for the verb 'to hiss' is 'fauchen' which sounds like FOWKEN. So imagine a man hisses and spits out a FALCON."

This is followed by an animated cartoon of a guy in a blue shirt spitting out a rather large bird.

It's a learning strategy called mnemonics and it applies to anything you need to memorize, not only to language learning. Think of it as a crutch--preferably a funky image or story that helps you remember a word, a list, or whole textbooks. As there are many different types of mnemonics, we'll only talk about the "image" or "story" type today.

Here's another example taken out of Barry Farber's book "How To Learn Any Language":

"A common form of the verb 'to speak' in Hebrew is 'medaber,' pronounced meda-BEAR. There it is: you were walking through the newly planted forests of Israel and suddenly you 'med' a bear who could speak!"

While these little stories are entertaining, my first thought is - there has to be an easier way to remember vocabulary words than to come up with a whole story about each word!

And there is!

I'd like to present three different strategies for learning vocabulary and put them in order from least to most effective.

1. Learn from a vocabulary list.

el gato - cat
el trabajo - work
el tiempo - time

Bad choice, because you get into the habit of translating every Spanish word back into English. While this might work if you're writing, it takes way to much time if you're trying to understand a Spanish speaker, let alone say something yourself. Don't do it.

2. Mnemonics.

Make up a little story to connect the sounds of each Spanish word to a similar sounding English word, and make sure you "see" the connection in your mind.

- "Bésame" means "ki*ss me" - sounds like "sesame" - you could imagine asking someone with sesame stuck to his/her lips giving you a great big kiss.

- "Hombre" means "man" and sounds like the beginning of "umbrella" - imagine a man with a big green umbrella running through the rain. The sillier the image, the better it sticks.

Mnemonics are more effective than memorizing a vocabulary list, but it takes time to put together, and you still only remember one word at a time. You're still connecting every word with something in English and will have to do the mental gymnastics of retrieving the image (man running with a green umbrella) and the English word (umbrella) in order to finally find the Spanish word you were looking for (hombre).

I only use this technique in extreme cases, when I'm trying to remember a word that just won't stick, no matter what I do.

3. Active Listening.

Connect the sound of the Spanish word you're learning with its meaning, WITHOUT going through English.

When you hear or read "las tres de la mañana," you "see" the clock showing 3:00AM. It's the most immediate way to learn, and it sticks forever. All you need to do is

a- Decode the Spanish into English (translate word by word):

las tres de la mañana
the three of the morning

b- Ask a native Spanish speaker to record the snippet for you, ideally as part of a whole story.

c- Listen to your recording while you're reading the English words. You know what they mean, so you'll picture the time on the clock while you're hearing "las tres de la mañana" said in Spanish. Very soon, the moment you hear it said, the 3:00AM will come to your mind, effortlessly.

It's brilliant! Vera Birkenbihl came up with this, and I consider it the very best way to learn vocabulary. Go and try it!

© 2008 Nathalie V. Fairbanks

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